Vinegar Valentines

For decades, Valentine’s Day has been the perfect opportunity for secret admirers to confess their love… but during the Victorian era, it was also perfect for anonymously revealing otherwise unspeakable feelings and insults to those you certainly do not love.

In the 19th century, there was a tradition of sending ‘vinegar valentines’ which often featured caricature-like illustrations of the recipient with rather catty poems. The cards reflected the social attitudes of the day, and would poke fun at qualities like baldness, vanity, men who cared for children, academic women who neglected their appearances, the drunk and the scolding wife.

The cards were popular in both Britain and USA for over a century and were inexpensive meaning they were accessible to all classes, becoming particularly popular with the working class when schooling and literacy rates were on the rise.

The majority of these were sent anonymously, therefore creating the potential for some catastrophic misunderstandings, arguments and even fights. If found out, the sender could claim that it was meant as a comic valentine with humour rather than malice intended, although some of the harsher cards would be hard to brush off as playful!

Despite their popularity, some post offices found the messages so offensive that they refused to deliver them.